Courses in foreign languages at the Faculty

Anna Olszewska

Semester: all

Key words: visual communication, culture studies, cosmology, science, christian theology, Middle Ages, Early Modern Times


Course description:

In the philosophical reflection of the Middle Ages every element of nature was the proof of the in principio existence in the mind of the Creator of both the shape and history of the Universe. The texts and images appearing throughout the era in question, which have developed the metaphors of the sky as Church or the Holy Book, document the birth as well as development of the cosmogonic myth specific to the Christian civilization. The foundations of this myth are based on Platonic cosmology transposed into Latin, on the writings of the Fathers of the Church (mainly St. Augustine) and on Chalcidian commentaries on the Timaeus. The nature of the myth changes in late 12th century when the translations of the writings of Aristotle (De Caelo) become more widely known. Later, the paths of science and theology gradually drift apart which leads to the abandonment of the picture of the Universe based on the premise of its perfection and purposefulness.

The seminar I am offering will be devoted to the reconstruction of the images of time and the sky in medieval cosmology. The topics of the classes focus on the evolution of the outlook on the Universe, as well as the metaphors and theological controversies related to that outlook. The order of the classes corresponds, roughly, to the stages of development of the image of the Universe in western Europe between 5th and 17th century.

The purpose of this course is to make the participants familiar with key issues from the field of medieval and the early modern cosmology, as well as to widen the historical perspective of the outlook on the attitudes in the european culture, which came into being as a consequence of the application of the then image of the Universe (e.g. the understanding of history, the attitude of the Church as an institution to millenarists movements, and the changing attitudes towards the earthly world).

1. The Cosmos i.e. the idea of the beautiful order – a clash of the Platonic model of the Universe (Timaeus) with Christian theology (Saint Augustine: Confessions and The City of God) – a dispute over the eternity of the world.

2. Mundus annus homo- diagrams in the encyclopedia entitled De natura rerum by Isidore of Seville, as well as the representations of vegetative cycles that stem from them; the iconography of the so-called labours of the months and the personifications of the year in medieval art.

3. The quadriguae of celestial bodies – the reception of the Aratea in Carolingian and Ottonian circles.

4. The Motionless Skies and the Sacred Time – the metaphor of the Universe in the images of Creation, paradise and in eschatology – examples of early commentaries on Genesis and the Apocalypse (Beatus of Liebana, In Apocalipsi libri duodecim, Saint Ambrose of Milan, Hexameron.), the motive of heavenly light and the representations of time which came to a standstill (among others the Crucificions between the Sun and the Moon, images of paradise).

5. The theological dimension of the time of Easter – computistics; the division of the history of the world into epochs; Bede the Venerable, De temporum Ratione – the role of time in the organization of monastic life (exemplified by the Benedictine monks).

6. The sky as a representation of the Church – early medieval encyclopedic texts, the order of the book of martyrs, cosmological structures in the Sacraments (the seasons of the year representing the stages of both the prosperity and persecution throughout the history of the Ecclesia).

7. Saints and Sinners – the anthropological dimension of natural phenomena as exemplified by the scripture book De Universo by Rabanus Maurus.

8. Harmonia Mundi – a pantheistic vision of the Universe in John Scotus Eriugena’s Periphyseon and its reception in miniature in Clavis Phisicae by Honore d’Autum (Bibliotque Nationale, Paris, Latin manuscript 3467, f. 3 v).

9. Time as a source of knowledge and grace – the new symbolism of the Days of Creation in the texts of the School of Chartres – the Cycle of Creation in 12th c biblical miniatures.

10. The Fight Between Darkness and Light – the illustrations in the manuscripts from the scriptorium at Prum (e.g. Chronicon Zwifaltense Minus) – the appearance of the demonic image of the forces of nature.

11. The image of Heaven in mystical visions – Hildegard of Bingen Liber divinorum operum and Scivias – the relationships between image and text.

12. The impact of aristotleism on the transformation of the image of the Universe and its consequences as far as the notion of time is concerned – the 13th century encyclopedias; emphasis placed on the anthropological motives in the allegories of the Universum (the macro-and microcosm), time as a sequence of events (exemplified by Speculum Historiale by Vincent of Beauvais).

13. Astrology vs Astronomy – the history of the two notions, the dispute over astrology at medieval universities, ‘learned astrology’ in texts written by Albert the Great and Peter d’Ailly; the fields in which time – related astrological practices (such as creating horoscopes) were accepted ; the fields in which astrology was accepted in the Christian world (medicine etc.), the Christianization of astrological motives in both iconography and texts (e.g. the allegories related to the cycle of the zodiac).

14. The vanities of the world – introduction of vanitate motives into Gothic art, the personification of Death, time understood as something that passes, the transformation of the personification of kairos characteristic of Classical Antiquity into the medieval figure of Chronos.

15. The Copernican Revolution, its assumptions and consequences for the then concept of time – the slow disintegration of the then image of the Universe and its division into two models: the scientific and the theological one.


  • d’ Alverny, Marie-Thérèse. L’Homme comme symbole, le microcosme. In Settimane di studio del centro italiano di studi sull’alto medievo, XXIII, Simboli e Simbologia nell’alto Medioevo, Spoleto, 3-9 aprile 197. Spoleto: Presso la Sede del Centro, 1976. pp. 123-195.

  • Bober, Harry. The Zodiacal Miniature of the „Tres Riches Heures” of the Duke of Berry Its Sources And Meaning. «Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes», 11, 1948. pp. 1-34.

  • Borst, Arno. The Ordering of Time. From the Acient Computus to the modern Computer. Cambridge: Polity Press, 1993

  • Burnett, Charles. Advertising the New Science of the Stars, circa 1120 – 1150. In: Le XII siècle ... et renuveau en France dans la première moitié du XIIe siècle, «Caiers du léoppard d’or», 3, 1994. pp. 147 – 157.

  • Duhem, Pierre. Le Système du Monde. Histoire du doctrin cosmologiques de Platon à Copernic. Paris: Hermann, 1954 – 71.

  • Fontaine, Jacques. Isidore de Seville et la culture classique dans, l’espagne visigothique. Paris: Etudes Augustiniennes, 1959.

  • Grant, Edward. Planets, Stars, and Orbs: The Medieval Cosmos, 1200 – 1687, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994.

  • Kantorowicz, Ernst Hartwig. Plato in the Middle Ages. In: Selected Studies by E. H. Kantorowicz. New York: JJ Augustin, 1965. pp. 184 – 193.

  • Klibansky, Raymond, Panofsky Erwin, Saxl Fritz., Saturn and Melancholy. Studies in the History of Natural Philosophy, Religion, and Art. New York: Basic Books, Inc., 1964.

  • Kühnel, Bianca. The End of Time in the Order of Things: Science and Eschatology in Early Medieval Art. Regensburg: Schnell & Steiner, 2003.

  • Lecoq, Danielle. Le temps et l’intemporel sur quelques réprésentations médiévales du monde au XII et au XIIIe siècle. In: Le temps, sa mesure et sa perception au Moyen Age, actes du colloque Orléans 12-13 avril 1991. Bernard Ribémont [ed.]. Caen: Paradigme, 1992, p. 113 – 149.

  • Lewis, Clive Staples. The Discarded Image: An Introduction to Medieval and Renaissance Literature. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

  • Meyer – Bayer, Kathi. Music of the Spheres and the Dance of Death, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1970.

  • North, John. Cosmos: An Illustrated History of Astronomy and Cosmology. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2008.

  • Obrist, Barbara. Le Diagramme Isidorien des Saisons, son Contenu Phisique et les représentations figurative.«Mélanges de l’école française de Rome. Moyen Age». 108, 1996, no 1, pp. 95 – 164.

  • Panofsky, Erwin, Father Time. In Studies in iconology. Humanistic Temes in the Art of the Renaissance. New York: Oxford University Press, 1939, pp. 69 – 93.

  • Panofsky, Erwin, Saxl Fritz. Classical mitology in Mediaeval Ar. «Metropolitan Museum Studies», 4, 1933. pp. 228-280.

  • Paul, Jacques. L’Eglise et la culture en occident IX – XII siecles. t. 1, La sanctification de l’ordre temporel et spiritu. Paris: PUF, « Nouvelle Clio», 1994.

  • Pépin, Jean. Théologie cosmique et théologie chretienne, Paris PUF, «Bibliothèque de philosophie contemporaine», 1964.

  • Rudolph, Conrad. In the Beginning: Theories and images of creation in Northen Europe in the twelfth century. «Art History», 22, 1999, no 1. p. 3 – 55

  • Sicard, Paul. Diagrames médiévaux et exégese visuelle le ibellus de formatione arche de Hugues de Saint-Victor. In: Bibliotheca Victorina, 4, Paris-Turnhout: Brepols, 1993.

Grading system:

Students are obliged to attend sessions and submit one written assignment.


Course is given on tutorial individual bases